TV: Broadchurch, Legion, Casual and Orange is the New Black

Season Premiers:

Broadchurch – Season 3 (BBC America) 

Broadchurch Season 1 was one of the best murder mysteries I’ve seen in years.  Olivia Colman (Mrs. Miller) and David Tennant (Alec Hardy) played detectives investigating the death of a young boy, Danny.  Everything about it was excellent.  Unfortunately, the brilliance of the first season did not extend to Season 2 where the show went off the rails.  Part of the problem was the fact that the showrunners decided to drag the trial for Danny’s murder out over an entire second season and it resulted in a very unsatisfactory outcome making the frustration with the season’s pace even more of an issue.  In the meantime, the best feature of the show, the interplay and relationship between Miller and Hardy was missing as each was bogged down in their own serious personal issues.  Finally, the new case they were involved with was not very interesting or compelling.

For some reason, after that disaster of a second season, Broadchurch was renewed for a third and final season and I, being the sucker that I am, tuned in for the premier and I’m so glad I did.  The hour flew by as Miller and Hardy set out to investigate a new case involving the rape of a middle-aged woman.  The victim, Trisha (played by Julie Hesmonhalgh) gave one of the most emotional performances of the year as the detectives slowly took her through the steps of recounting what occurred.  Miller and Hardy seemed to be mostly back to normal and Colman radiates on the screen.  I am excited about where this show is going in its final season and can’t wait for the next episode.  I am cautiously optimistic that Broadchurch has found its mojo from season 1.

Note:  For those who aren’t familiar with some of the more distinct British regional accents, I recommend you put on the closed captioning.  Also, for those who have not seen it, S1 &S2 are on Netflix and I think you could watch Season 1, skip to 3 and then decide if you want to go back and do S2. 

Clearing out the DVR

Legion Season 1 (FX)

Well the first thing I should mention is that watching 3 episodes of Legion as they aired and then letting the rest pile up on the DVR and not getting back to this trippy show until months later was not a smart idea.  I was already at a disadvantage not knowing the Marvel world which spawned the Legion story.  When I tuned in to Noah Hawley’s most bizarre tale, I found it hard to follow but kind of hung on because it was so unusual.  Returning months later, I was completely overwhelmed with confusion.  To add insult to injury, my comic book expert daughter who watched the show refused to help me understand what was going on.  She told me that I took up too much of her time with Flash which was a much simpler show to explain to a non-comic book person.

I will say that the cinematography is amazing and although I never actually took LSD, this show seems to be one long LSD trip.  Alternative “planes” or universes have never been my strength and Legion has an endless number of them so the lines between real and imagined in this universe are blurred in every episode.  All I need is time travel to totally put me over the edge.  At least there were recaps to fall back on as I attempted to unravel what happened in each episode.  Dan Stevens is great in the lead role and it’s amazing to see how far from his Downton Abby role he has come.

I am clearly not the target demo for Legion but I can tell it is well done and for the Marvel Universe lovers out there, I can understand why they love this show.  I won’t be returning next season but I’m glad I got a chance to finish off this one as it was one of the more unique TV viewing experiences of the year. 

Streaming:

Casual (Hulu)

I decided to check out this critically acclaimed show as I had reopened my HULU account to watch Handmaid’s tale.  I watched all of Seasons 1 and 2.   This is one of the an increasingly large group of 30 minute dramedies appearing everywhere and many of them are excellent. Among the best are Better Things, Catastrophe, You’re the Worst, Fleabag, Transparent and One Mississippi.  I have watched them all.  They are comedies with main characters who are often deeply flawed and always must deal with serious issues such as bi-polar condition, breast cancer, alcoholism, transgender family members, etc. Every comedic moment seems to arise out of a very depressing scene.

Casual is about a brother Alex and his sister Val.  Alex made a lot of money developing an algorithm for a dating site.  Now he pretty much sits around in an expensive home and does nothing except have casual sex with beautiful women, most of whom he altered the algorithm to show that they were compatible matches.  Val is recently divorced after her husband had an affair and she moves in with Alex along with her sixteen-year-old daughter Laura.  Everyone, including Laura has a lot of sex in this show.  Again, there is A LOT of sex on this show.  They are all looking for something deeper (well maybe not Alex) without success.  Alex and Val are messed up primarily because their parents were hippies following the free love movement around the country and didn’t care much about or for their children.  This family probably beats the Pfefferman’s for TV’s most dysfunctional family and that is tough to do.

Casual is well done.  It is very funny but I don’t see that it brings more to the table than the other shows I mentioned.  It isn’t worth getting a HULU subscription to see it but if you already have Hulu and maybe haven’t seen some of these other shows which are on Netflix, Amazon and Cable, check it out.  It is a good summer binge.  I’m sure I’ll get through the current Season 3 soon as TV is slow right now and I want to cancel HULU as soon as I can but I’m not sure I need to go back to Casual next year. 

Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

Whoever thought that an entire 13-episode season should cover only three days of a prison riot was a good idea should look for another occupation.  The emotionally devastating finale last year showing Poussey’s death by strangulation left a huge void in the show without a clear path forward so I’m sure the show runner’s decided to try something unique. It doesn’t work for me.  I’m not sure I’m even going to get through this season so thought I would note how much I disliked what was going on even though I’m only less than half way through the episodes.  The reason that I’m fairly certain I won’t make it is that I am having real difficulty even getting through one episode in a single sitting.  I generally need to break it into two viewing segments.  This can’t be good.

What are the issues?  To begin with, I can’t get past the fact that if there was a prison riot in a woman’s minimum security prison that federal troops wouldn’t move in and quash it rather than standing around outside doing nothing.  The women have only one gun and no idea what they are doing or what they should be focused on yet the authorities don’t bother to intercede. It is ridiculous.  I am also tired of the flashbacks.  By now, we have seen flashbacks for anyone we care about and I can’t even tell who they are doing them on at this point.  OITNB needs to find a new mechanism to bring the inmates stories to life.  Finally, I’m just not interested in anything any of these women are doing during this prison riot.  It is just boring.  So, assume this is my last post ever on OITNB unless by some miracle, the show makes a miraculous recovery and it gains some of its former appeal in which case, I might try it again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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TV: Orphan Black, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and World of Dance

TV premiers and finales have wound down but we still have a few.

Seasons Premiers: 

Orphan Black (BBC America)

Orphan Black premiered this past week for its fifth and final season and the fate of all our favorites clones is up in the air.  Sarah is wounded and crawling around an island trying to find Cosima.  There is some sort of weird monster lurking on said island in addition to the crazy cult which is holding Cosima hostage. The potential cure for her resperatory disease needs to be injected in her uterine wall so she escapes her cabin to go find it.   Alison and Helena are still camping although Art, with his super dangerous new partner,  captures Alison while Donnie escapes without helping her.  Despite the fact they didn’t get Donnie or Helena, the latter is speared by a piece of wood into her uterus as she tries to escape.  We can’t lose Helena’s babies!  Rachel is now apparently second in command in the bizarre group that runs the commune and offers to inject Cosima saying they need to stay on the island and find a cure for all the clones.

Orphan Black has certainly had its ups and downs over the past 5 seasons and I totally lost the ability to understand what was going on during the season that had the male clone army but now that we are winding down, I hope we get some answers and happy resolutions for the best of the clones.  Tatiana Maslany is so amazing and what she has done with these many characters is groundbreaking.  This show is probably a good summer binge if you haven’t seen it.  I think being able to watch it all at once will make for a better understanding of the crazier plotlines. 

House of Cards (Netflix)

I don’t watch every season of House of Cards all the way through but I thought last years was good so I tuned in this season.  As usual, I didn’t remember what happened 12 months ago but one doesn’t have to in order to get the basic gist of what is going on.  I’m about one-half way through this season and with a crazy sequence of events, Claire is Interim President and she and her husband are manipulating everything in sight in order to make that permanent.  Joel Kinnaman is an effective “villain” trying to prevent that from happening .  Doug Stamper is back with unclear motives – is he the newest bad guy?  If he is, that could make for a most interesting plot-line.

I can see that although the Showrunners of House of Cards wrote and filmed this season well before the 2016 US Presidential election, the stories are eerily similar.  House of Cards is so out there and our real White House is like a dystopian novel.  These two together create an environment where reality and fiction are indistinct from each other.   I’m not sure how long viewers will stay tuned in when entertainment inadvertently becomes a reality show.  The show, with all its fine acting, just isn’t strong enough, in my opinion, to transcend this issue.  Perhaps if it was the best series on TV, people might find this exaggerated dose of reality intriguing but that’s just not the case.  I’ll do a final report when I get through the entire season and hoping for stronger episodes in the second half. 

Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

Ouch, the reviews are in for this season and they are not good.  The entire season takes place over the course of a 3-day prison riot and apparently, nothing works well with this new format. I have watched the first episode and I’m not sure I buy into any of the reactions of the various inmates to their circumstances.  The character development so carefully crafted over the last several years seems to have been abandoned for many of them during this time of crisis at the prison.  Samira Wiley’s Poussey is sorely missed as a character both within the show and for the viewer.  I have always enjoyed OITNB so I will give it at least half of a season but if it is as bad as the reviewers have said, I’m not sure even I can get through that.  More to come on this one. 

World of Dance

I’m not a big reality show person.  I watch the Voice from time to time and I watched So You Think You Can Dance for years until it deteriorated to the point where I just couldn’t watch a couple of summers ago.  I will try it again this summer to see if has gone back to its roots but in the meantime, a new dance show premiered that I thought might have some potential.  World of Dance has Derek Hough, Jay Lo and Ne-Yo as the judges along with Channing Tatum’s wife Jenna as some sort of backstage cheerleader.  I’m not sure what her role is.  At any rate, the show brings dance acts from across the world doing all kinds of dances and divides them into age groups.

I’ve seen a few shows and I’m not very impressed.  Some of the acts are good but others seem picked just because they do something different, not because they are very good.  There is nothing new or particularly innovative here and it can’t compare with the quality we used to see on SYTYCD.  If the latter is even close to its original level when it premiers later this summer, I’ll dump the former in a heartbeat. In the meantime, there are only 10 episodes and hopefully we’ll be to the next level of competition soon and the acts will become stronger.

What I’m streaming this summer:

  • I have started in on a Game of Thrones rewatch but it is slow going and I’m sure I will not have made much progress before the new season premiers on July 16th. Nevertheless, it is fun to be back in Season One amidst the many characters who have long since been killed.
  • My big watch this summer will probably be the Wire. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

TV: GOT hits a new high; OITNB hitting its stride and a pretty good new show

Premiers:

Thirteen (BBC America)

Thirteen, a British mystery mini-series, premiered in the Orphan Black timeslot this week. The first episode finds a young woman named Ivy, escaping from a house. She says she was kidnapped 13 years age at age 13 (hence the title). In the interim, apparently there had been several imposters so at first the police are skeptical that she is who she says she is. After all the DNA swipes have taken place, the police interrogate her as if she is a criminal rather than the victim.

To the show’s credit, the DNA test is quickly analyzed and she is who she says she is. That leaves her and her family to deal with the fallout. Ivy’s childhood boyfriend comes to visit and hides the fact he is married even though she clearly thinks he has waited for her. Ivy’s sister struggles with having her older sister back functioning as a young girl. Ivy’s parents have long since split but her father moves back into the house to hide it from her.  Her kidnapper is on the loose and there is a connection between him and the headmaster of her elementary school.  The police are desperately trying to find the man who did this to her.

Thirteen at first glance succeeds at what the recent ABC show “The Family” tried to do but failed.   Many of the plot lines are the same (the separated parents reuniting, the sibling difficulties etc.) but Thirteen makes them more realistic and has better, subtler mysteries. I’m only one episode in but I think this is going to be the solid mystery that “The Family” couldn’t pull off.

Finales:

Game of Thrones (HBO)

Season 6 of Game of Thrones has been a bit uneven. There have been great episodes (Hodor and the Door) as well as some rather bizarre plot lines. I guess that is to be expected given that George R.R. Martin has not completed the book that the season is based on. The action episodes (which Martin has clearly conveyed to the show runners) are fine but the dialogue and character development seem to be off in several episodes. I have to believe it is because the show runners don’t have the written material to work with. I must admit, however, that not having the book knowledge this year made the season more enjoyable.

This was the year of the women with strong performances by Dany, Sansa (although her character does some very bizarre things), Yara Greyjoy, Cersei and Arya. There were certainly episodes that seemed to have an inordinate amount of filler but again, I think that it is because there wasn’t a book to provide the detail.  We also had the consummate episode 9 battle. This year’s was “Battle of the Bastards” and was fought between Jon Snow’s forces and those of Ramsey Bolton for control of Winterfell. The battle scenes themselves were a technical masterpiece – one of the best battles we have ever seen on television- but the plot around the action was very suspect. Lots of reviewers have written about this in depth so I’m not going to spend time on it other than to say only the writers understand why Sansa withheld  critical information from Jon and what the implications are for her character. Either Sansa is stupid or she is developing into a darker more power-hungry character than we are comfortable with given her history. For most of us, it just seems like an error on the part of the show runners but we’ll have to wait for next season to see how Sansa develops.

The finale was fantastic on all fronts – one of the best episodes in the history of the show (Spoiler Alert Ahead). We receive confirmation as to Jon’s parentage, which had been figured out by most fans. Our favorite ten-year-old ever, Lyanna Mormont, killed it as she shamed the rest of the Northern Houses into supporting Jon who is elected Warden of the North. Let’s get a spin-off with her as the lead character a.s.a.p. It is still unclear as to whether Sansa has her sights set on power nor how her bizarre relationship with Littlefinger is going to unfold.  We have to be very worried about Arya’s dark side after killing Walter Frye and for the remaining Stark, Bran. Is he going to go inside the tree? How will he get to Winterfell and will he tell John what he saw in his vision.   We understand more about the Wall based on Uncle Benji’s explanation, which hints at a major plot line with the White Walkers. Dany and Tyrion are a force to be reckoned with as she brings her fleet, dragons and Dothraki forces towards King’s Landing where Cersei is the new Queen on the Iron Throne – a job that doesn’t come with a long lifeline. The music, cinematography and pacing were all great in this episode and the many GOT fans are sinking into depression as we speak knowing it will likely be close to a year before we have new episodes and when we do, there will only be seven.

Summer Binging:

Orange is the New Black (Netflix) – Season 4

I binged through all 13 episodes of OITNB this week and although it was a bit uneven, the last few shows were extremely powerful. Season 1 was excellent and fairly comedic (even entered the Emmys in the Comedy category). Seasons 2 and 3 were all over the place and Season 3 in particular was not very good. Finally in Season 4, we have a show that seems to understand its place in the world and it is drama, not comedy. Prison isn’t a happy place and this season focuses on the darker side of the experience including the new and abusive guards, overcrowding and the many downsides of a privatized prison. The psychological impacts of abuse, rape and the constant struggle for survival within the prison walls are explored and as a result, we have the drama that this show was always meant to be.

This season also has freshness to it with perhaps the biggest cast in television. The Latinos have gained power and many characters we weren’t familiar have larger parts with intriguing backstories. We watch Pennsatucky struggle with her rape by a prison guard by continuing to have some sort of relationship with him. Although we cringe when we see her kiss him, we actually have some sympathy for a character that was season one’s most despised inmate. We get a lot of Lollie, her backstory and what impact Prison can have on the mentally ill.  By the time we get to the last few episodes, the tragedies are mounting until we have one of the saddest and most compelling deaths in TV this year. The aftermath of the death is devastating for all involved and finale cliffhanger may well take the show to a new place.

If you gave up on Orange last year, go back for Season 4. It is good.

 

SUMMER BINGING SCORE:

Great: 1 (UnREAL S1; Pride and Prejudice)

Good: 1 (OITNB S4)

OK: 0

Not Good: 1 (Bloodline S2)

TV: Summer TV -Some Great Stuff Along with a Couple of Duds

 

Premiers:

Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

The fourth season of Orange is the New Black dropped Friday and I have been able to watch the first four episodes. I have read several reviews all of which say that it is a very strong season – particularly the latter episodes so I’m anxious to get to them. To be honest, Seasons 2 and 3 were very mixed and so it is good to know that this season, while expected to be much darker, is a big improvement.

This season we are getting some more of the “lesser” characters and their backstories add additional depth to the various plot lines. Taylor Shilling was barely visible in the first few episodes and that is fine – Piper is not one of the show’s strongest characters. Meanwhile, at Litchfield, it is now a “for profit prison” and extremely crowded with a Martha Stewart-like inmate played wonderfully by Blair Brown. There are lots of tensions between the old and new inmates and a murder followed by the body being cut into parts and buried in the garden makes for a humorous start. Some may think this is a comedy and it does have comedic elements but it is really a drama and I’m excited about where we are headed this season. I’ll keep you posted as I progress but I’m totally in!

The Interestings (Amazon)

I was intrigued when I saw that Meg Wolitzer’s excellent book had been made into a TV series so had to check it out. Wolitzer’s novel follows a group of creative kids who meet at an arts camp during the 1970s and takes them through adulthood with unexpected life choices and outcomes.  Entertainment Weekly gave the TV show a C- which made me nervous that yet another one of my favorite books was going to be butchered when adapted for the small screen. A show really has to be bad to get a grade like that on EW, which is notoriously generous in its grades. The first episode dropped on Amazon this week so I watched it. I try not to judge a show by just one episode but it wasn’t great and I’m thinking it could be rather confusing for non-book readers. The book flows back and forth more fluidly then the TV show and this is a tough book to bring to screen. More to come but I’m not optimistic. While viewing this episode, I kept having visions of the “Magicians” and how much it disappointed me – could the Interestings be worse?

Finales:

Orphan Black (BBC America)

On the day of Orphan Black’s season finale, it was announced that next season would be the 5th and final one. While I could watch our favorite clones for years, I always like it when show runners get to determine how to finish a story the way they want and go out on their own terms. This season has been strong. Clearly the writers heard feedback about how the show had become so complicated that no one knew what the heck was going on. Many of its fans kept viewing solely because Tatiana Maslany is so great that we can’t stop watching her. As a result, the overall story arc was simplified and the show introduced an “After the Black” show, which provides additional insight to each episode. The end result was a good season in which the story arc was easier to follow.

The finale was a bit convoluted with Donnie and his two clone “wives” camping out in the snow; Sarah venturing north to find Cosima; Rachel stealing the cure and attacking her mother and Crystal being brought into the fold. Delphine and Cosima are back together but where and with who is a mystery. They appear to be held by a mysterious man “the messenger” who is somehow aligned to Rachel and hangs out in a bunch of huts on the island. Rachel has turned villain again (at least we think so) and is about to meet the mysterious founder of Neolution who is over 100 years old….what???? Sarah is wandering around the island with a serious leg wound and we’ll just have to wait to see how all of this resolves itself next year.

OJ Simpson: Made in America (ESPN)

OJ Simpson finished up it’s almost 8 hour run and it was riveting. Hopefully everyone got a chance to see it although I’m sure there will be numerous re-runs and it is available for streaming on ESPN. It is one of the best documentaries ever done by ESPN and maybe even on TV – just a fantastic series that everyone should see. Get your Millennials to watch it as well. I think it has even more of an impact on this generation who did not live though the Bronco chase or the verdict. What it teaches them about history, race relations and justice in the United States is invaluable.

The last episode was really well done as it followed OJ from the polarizing verdict through his incarceration for the Las Vegas debacle including the assertion by his business manager that OJ actually confessed to the killing. His character is exposed as he is shunned by the Brentwood crowd and looks to reconnect with the African American community. He falls in with an unsavory crowd culminating in the armed robbery of a memorabilia dealer. His final sentencing for many will seem justified based on his earlier acquittal but many others will find his sentencing extreme for the crime. As the story fades, the tragic life of Simpson from superstar to convict is laid bare for all to see. The mini series is worthy of all the accolades that I expect it will receive in the coming months.

Binging Update:

Bloodline (Season 2 Netflix)
I completed Season 2 of Bloodline. While most critics refer to Season 1 of Bloodline as “a slow burn”,  I’m afraid the match wasn’t even lit in Season 2. Although Ben Mendelsohn is technically still on the show, the second season suffers from not having him as a main character and the superb interactions with Kyle Chandler that we enjoyed last season. Season 2 is just boring as the three Rayburn siblings see their respective lives fall apart after participating in Danny’s murder. The police are closing in painfully slowly. For some inexplicable reason, John, the murderer ,decides to run for public office introducing just a stupid plot line.  The finale sets the stage for next season with numerous people finding out who murdered Danny and another murder (please make them stop) adding to the ridiculousness of it all.

I can’t image what Season 3 will bring unless the Rayburns murder everyone in town who figures out who murdered Danny. There is no way I’ll suffer through another season of this show although I might tune in for what I expect to be the series finale episode to watch them all put in jail. What was a reasonably good series in Season 1 with fine acting just fell apart in season 2 – albeit the acting was still good. Once we knew who murdered Danny, the show was pretty much over and that was totally apparent throughout Season 2. By the end of it, any empathy I had for the characters in the first season had long since disappeared – too bad – it had potential.

BINGING SCORE:

Great: 1 (UnREAL)

OK: 0

Not Good: 1 (Bloodline)

TV: What I’m watching this summer

 

Summer TV viewing:

Summer is a time to catch up and binge watch shows that you haven’t gotten to see during the year or years past. Since retirement, I have been able to catch up on many shows I missed during my working career or that I just couldn’t get to in the last couple of seasons. This summer I am going to try and watch the following even though I’m pretty sure I won’t get to through every series.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress and feel free to binge them yourselves!

Must see summer shows:

Mr. Robot (USA)

Mr. Robot starts its 2nd season July 13th. If you haven’t seen this Golden Globe winning drama, find Season 1 and watch this remarkably fine cyber hacking drama staring the magnificent Rami Malek. It is full of twists and turns and you won’t always know what is going on but the acting is fantastic and the show worth of all its accolades.

Rectify (Sundance)

Rectify will premier it’s forth and final season late this summer on Sundance. For me, this is tied with the Americans as the best TV program on the air. You can easily catch up on the first three seasons on Netflix, as each season only runs  6 episodes except for season 2 (I think).  I promise that it will be so compelling that if you don’t have the Sundance channel, you will get a Seasons Pass on ITunes so you won’t have to wait another year to see the final season.

Rectify follows Daniel Holden, who was convicted for the rape and murder of his girlfriend when he was 18 years old. At 36, after spending 18 years on Death Row, he is cleared through DNA analysis and returns to his childhood home. The show explores how he and his family and the community deal with his return. It is a beautiful character study that combines unsolved mysteries (did he really do it) with evolving personalities and relationships. Just an amazing series.

Netflix original shows I am involved with but haven’t been able to keep up on that I will try and finish:

  • The Unbreakable Kimmy  Schmidt (Very Good)
  • Bloodline (Good 1st season; 2nd season is supposed to be pretty bad but I’ll check it out)
  • Daredevil (1st season very good; haven’t gotten to more than 1 episode in season 2)
  • Jessica Jones (1st season very good; 2nd season not yet released)
  • Orange is the New Black (it has had it’s ups and downs but I am a faithful viewer waiting for the next season to drop)
  • Grace and Frankie (ok first season and second season is very weak)

Series I want to catch up on:

  • Jane the Virgin (I watched the original pilot but it wasn’t my cup of tea so I dropped it. However most of the critics I really respect love it and so I think I need to give it another chance
  • Sherlock (another very good one that I just have never been able to find time for)
  • Killjoy (Highly rated Sci Fy show that I’d like to check out)
  • PBS’s Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth (I’m a sucker for Jane Austin and this is supposed to be a great one!)
  • Happy Valley (got through an episode or so but had no time this year and can’t wait to get through the rest)
  • Billions (saw the first episode but never had time for the rest this season)

There are still some premiers and finales happening that I will be posting updates for them as they happen.